Nick DeVries' life changed drastically back in July of 2007. The Rochester native, now 27, was living in California and working for a large corporation in their customer service division. Nick had earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Buffalo, and was just starting to think about enrolling at California State University to study architecture. All told, life was pretty good — until the accident.
"I don't remember any of it," says DeVries, who had been on his motorcycle that night. "All I know is that I was in the exit lane, and then nothing."
After spending five weeks in an induced coma to minimize brain swelling, DeVries was medevaced back to Rochester to be with his family. Now, after nearly two years on the road to recovery, DeVries is a regular visitor to Nazareth College's Aphasia Clinic, where he is one of the many clients with traumatic brain injury (TBI) who are working their way back to a more independent life.
TBI, a major cause of death and disability worldwide, occurs when sudden damage to the brain produces a diminished or altered state of consciousness. The trauma results from a blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the function of the brain. Injuries may range from mild, with a brief change in mental status or consciousness, to severe, involving an extended period of unconsciousness or amnesia.
Typical symptoms of TBI may include any or all of the following: lack of motivation; inability to efficiently process information; irritability, depression, and anxiety; increased fatigue and headaches; memory loss or disturbance; behavioral issues; and post-traumatic stress disorder.
In the United States alone, traumatic brain injuries occur every 21 seconds, resulting in some 1.4 million cases per year. Direct medical costs related to TBI and indirect costs such as lost productivity can be staggering. In 2000, the latest year for which figures are available, the direct and indirect costs of TBI totaled an estimated $60 billion in the U.S. Overall, some 5.3 million Americans have a long-term or lifelong need for help performing daily living activities as a result of TBI, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
The good news is that for people with traumatic brain injury, the outlook is more encouraging now than it has ever been. Current research and practices provide much greater opportunities for those living with TBI today. It is important to realize, however, that the road back to health after a brain injury is generally still a long and difficult one.
Emilie Feltner '09G, a graduate student in Nazareth's speech-language pathology program who works at the Aphasia Clinic, is learning the need for patience. Mostly, Emilie works with stroke victims, but she does have one TBI client — a woman in her late twenties who is recovering from the effects of a brain injury sustained in a motor vehicle accident. She is nonverbal and Feltner works with her on augmentative and alternative communication by helping her type words.
Feltner's most important discovery so far is that success doesn't come overnight for people with TBI. "I've learned to celebrate the little successes," she says. "It all comes with baby steps. But it's really inspiring to see how hard someone can work. It makes you never want to complain about having a bad day again."
For clients like Nick DeVries and students like Emilie Feltner, the Aphasia Clinic offers a very special environment in which to learn — and relearn. In fact, over the years Nazareth has been at the forefront of TBI research and outreach in many significant ways.
"I think people have misconceptions about me, and about individuals with TBI in general," said Nick Devries.
Nick Devries works with graduate clinician Jessica Zumbo '09G on using an external memory device aid.